Jewish History Resources
Genealogists will find records created by government useful for their research. Government at all levels - federal, State, and local - touches the lives of every individual residing in this state. Many of the interactions that individuals have with government - from registering vital events or obtaining a license, to exercising certain rights and privileges or accepting an entitlement, to arguing a matter before a court - are recorded and maintained in government files. These records can provide a wealth of information for historical or genealogical research.
In New York State, the archival records of the federal government that were created or received by federal courts or agencies operating in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands from 1685 to the 1980's are held at the National Archives - Northeast Region. This facility is located in New York City.
The New York State Archives, located in Albany, holds the records of all three branches of State government that have continuing historical and legal value. These records date from the Dutch colonial period to the present. You can explore the holdings of the State Archives via its on-line catalog, Excelsior.
New York's several thousand local governments - village, town, city and county - all produce and retain records of long-term value.
Individuals wishing to do research on Jewish family history will find New York rich in governmental historical resources. While government records are created to document specific functions and activities of a government entity or program and were not intended for the purpose of genealogical research, many do contain information on individuals. Examples of government records that provide such information include: vital records (births, marriages, deaths), census records, records of war service, records of land transactions, court records, and records of government-operated custodial or correctional institutions. Many of these records are held at more than one level of government. Some are preserved in a government archive, while others remain in the agency or office that created them. Some local governments have transferred their archival records to the custody of local libraries or historical societies to ensure their preservation.
The following summary information on government records is an overview of records that have the greatest interest for, and are most used by, genealogical researchers. The list is fullest for records of the State government in the New York State Archives and is not exhaustive.
- Vital Records
Detailed information on federal census schedules for New York State and New York State census records, is contained in New York State Census Records, 1790-1925 (New York State Library Bibliography Bulletin 88, 1981).
- Records Of Military Service
Local governments formerly had responsibility for determining eligibility for military service and supporting local militias through special assessments. Records that may exist in local governments include: lists of persons eligible for military duty; lists of soldiers, officers and seamen; and militia tax or assessment rolls. These may be kept by the county clerk or chief fiscal officer or by town or city clerks. Veterans' discharge records have been filed, at the veteran's option, with county clerks since 1909.
- Court Records
- Records Relating To Land Transfers And Taxation
- Records Of Government Operated Institutions
Various governments in the State have operated penal, medical, educational, and charitable institutions. Most of these maintained records of inmates, patients, students or residents as well as administrative records documenting institutional operations. Records that contain information of a personal nature are generally restricted in accordance with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Law and the Personal Privacy Protection Act for records created by State government, as well as other laws governing disclosure of personally identifying information.
- Correctional Institutions (Prisons And Reformatories)
- Custodial Institutions (State Hospitals, Psychiatric and Developmental
Patient records predating 1900 from Buffalo, Kingsboro (Brooklyn), Utica, and Willard Psychiatric Centers and older patient records of the Craig Developmental Center (formerly an epileptic colony) and the Staten Island Developmental Center are in the State Archives. Information about patients is restricted and can be disclosed only with permission of the Office of Mental Health or the Office of Mental Retardation & Developmental Disabilities.
The New York State Board of Charities carried out censuses of poorhouses or almshouses during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The State Archives holds a census of inmates, 1875-1921 that contains information on residents of county and city poorhouses. The series is not indexed and cannot be easily searched. However, the census contains considerable personal data on indigent individuals.
Student records from special State schools, including the State School for the Blind at Batavia and the State School for the Deaf at Rome are in the State Archives. Nineteenth century records from these schools may be inspected at the Archives.
School districts across the state maintain records on their students. Pursuant to the Common School Act of 1812, towns were required to provide public education and levy taxes to finance the establishment of schools and hiring of teachers. Early records documenting these actions, and some attendance and academic records as well may reside with town clerks or school districts; in some cases, early records have been deposited with local historians or with historical societies. School commissioners also filed annual reports with county clerks. Some school records identifying individual students may be considered confidential under the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act.
- Local Records On Microfilm In The New York State Archives.
- Local Government Records
Most local government records described in this brochure are held in the offices of the town, city, village or county clerks or have been transferred to another repository. The local clerk should be able to provide information on location of the government's archival records. Find a local government by searching the Directory of New York State Local Governments. For a list of county clerks and addresses, see the New York State Association of County Clerks. The New York State Archives, Local Government Records Useful in Family Research, (Leaflet, #31) also provides summary information on local records most often consulted by genealogists. Visit the Managing Historical Records section of the Publications area to obtain a PDF or print copy of this publication.
Note: A directory of government resources is available in the Directory of Service Providers section of this guide.